British Columbia

4 questions to be answered as Surrey forms its own police force

"If you don't do things carefully and properly the first time, the mistakes you made will haunt you tenfold."

Cost, process and provincial negotiations all great unknowns at this point

Surrey's RCMP detachment is the largest in the country with about 835 members. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

After an election campaign fought on the issue, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum did what he said he would do — put forward a motion at his very first council meeting that would pave the way for Surrey to create its own independent police force

Now comes the tricky part: making it happen on time and on budget. 

Here are four big questions about Surrey getting rid of the RCMP and setting up its own force that still need to be answered. 

1. Will it happen in 2 years?

McCallum has continually said that an independent police force could be up and running by the beginning of 2021.

"We'll be able to be up and running efficiently ... within two years. It is fast, but we're on a fast track in the city," he said at a news conference following council's vote.

The RCMP need at least two years formal notice from a city to leave a detachment, and Monday's motion only asks staff to start that process.

More to the point, moving to an independent police force requires provincial government approval — and there's no guarantee it would approve such an aggressive timeline.

"They have to have a transitional plan in place, in terms of how long it takes, in many ways that's up to them, in terms of getting the necessary information and put the plan together," said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.  

"It will take however long it takes, but until such time as a plan has been approved, and there's a lot that has to be dealt with, the current plan stays in place."

Doug McCallum is sworn in as Surrey's mayor at a ceremony at city hall on Nov. 5, 2018. (Colin Fode/CBC)

2. Where will the officers come from?

There are 835 RCMP officers in Surrey, and all of them will need to be replaced when an independent police force is created. 

But McCallum believes that will be relatively straightforward, claiming about 50 per cent of Surrey officers have indicated they would leave the RCMP and go with the new local force, with the rest coming from other Metro Vancouver police forces.

"A lot of people that work, especially in Vancouver and West Vancouver, have indicated they'd like to work with the Surrey police department, because their families live in Surrey, and they want to be a lot closer to their families," he said.

3. How much will it cost? 

In 2016, the total costs for policing in Surrey were $147 million, according to the provincial government. 

That's the second highest figure in British Columbia — but on a per capita basis, it's much lower than any large B.C. city that has an independent police force. 

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in costs is that salaries with independent police forces are generally higher.

In addition, the federal government provides 10 per cent of the costs for a municipality wishing to have an RCMP detachment. 

"I'm a realist. There have to be other costs," said McCallum. He believes Surrey will save on administration costs, and that the RCMP will unionize in the next two years, making questions of salary increases irrelevant. 

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the provincial government won't sign off on allowing an independent police force until a detailed plan is agreed to. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

But many policing experts are skeptical Surrey will be able to keep its policing budget within 10 to 15 per cent of what it was under the RCMP. 

"Are they understaffed in Surrey? Absolutely. Are they underpaid? Absolutely. So they're going ot have to look at those two things in particular, which is going to mean dollars. I don't know where Doug McCallum is coming from on costs," said Eddie MacDonald, co-chair of the National Police Federation. 

4. What will the transition period look like?

This is the area where McCallum has provided the fewest details to date: who will manage the transition, how much community consultation will happen and what values will guide the process. 

"We [don't] have a clear sense of strategic direction of what a municipal force ... would need to police like. What its priorities would need to be. What it's leadership structure would need to be. What its accountability framework would need to be," said Wade Deisman, a criminology professor at Kwantlen University. 

 

He said that in the weeks ahead, he'll be looking at how open McCallum is to appointing experts to lead the transition — and longer-term, if the first police chief chosen has a background conducive to a start-up organization. 

"I admire the mayors' ambitions, and he's to be credited for wanting to fast-track it," said Deisman. 

"But if you don't do things carefully and properly the first time, the mistakes you made will haunt you tenfold." 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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